Should we pray for the president?
After religious leaders gathered in the Oval Office to lay hands on President Donald Trump to pray that God gives him guidance, wisdom and protection, a photo of the gathering made the rounds on social media. The Rev. William Barber II, president of North Carolina’s NAACP chapter, responded on cable television that praying for Trump “borders on heresy.”
But other North Carolina religious leaders have already taken positions on prayer for the president – during President Barack Obama’s administration and as Trump took his place in the Oval Office in January.
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Evangelist Franklin Graham, who heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrote in 2014 that praying for those in authority “is a Biblical command.”
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry released a statement in January that addressed the topic. “We can and, indeed, I believe we must pray for all who lead in our civic order, nationally and internationally,” said Curry. Curry served at the North Carolina diocese for 15 years before Samuel Rodman succeeded him this year.
On MSNBC’s “AM Joy” on Saturday morning, Barber said: “It is a form of theological malpractice that borders on heresy when you can p-r-a-y for a president and others when they are p-r-e-y, preying on the most vulnerable,” Barber said. “You’re violating the most sacred principles of religion.”
But Curry has a different view of praying for America’s commander-in-chief.
“When we pray for Donald, Barack, George, Bill, George or Jimmy, presidents of the United States, we pray for their well-being, for they too are children of God, but we also pray for their leadership in our society and world,” Curry said. “We pray that they will lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest but the common good. When we pray for them, we are actually praying for our nation, for our world, indeed we are praying for ourselves.
“Should we pray for the President? Yes!”
The practice of praying for leaders has biblical roots, Curry said.
“Psalm 72 prays that the ancient Israelite king might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending ‘the cause of the poor,’ bringing ‘deliverance to the needy.’ 1 Timothy 2:1-2 encourages followers of Jesus to pray earnestly for those in leadership, that they may lead in ways that serve the common good,” Curry said.
In this spirit, Curry said the Anglican/Episcopal belief system has always included a prayer for those “who bear the authority of government.”
Curry said he grew up in a historically black congregation in the Episcopal Church, where “we prayed for leaders who were often lukewarm or even opposed to our very civil rights.
“We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got up off our knees and we Marched on Washington,” he wrote.
After Obama asked the public for prayer during his time in office, Graham wrote of his philosophy on praying for leaders.
“I should be praying for our president and our leaders every day—not to get something from them — but simply in obedience to the Scriptures,” Graham wrote in Decision Magazine in October 2014. “We know from Scripture that God can turn the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1). That means that we should be praying for God’s will to be done and for our leaders to seek God and listen to Him. We should pray that they would be surrounded by godly counsel and, most important, that our leadership would personally know God and the salvation found through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”
And Graham said people should pray for leaders, even if they don’t support them politically.
“Should we not be diligently praying that God would give our president, Congress and military leaders wisdom?” he said. “Our senators and governors and council members need our prayers— even if they are not the candidates we voted for.”